Schleswig-Holstein (Germany)

Schleswig-Holstein (Germany)

The Riddle of the Shifting Sands: The historic shipwrecks of the North Frisian Wadden Sea exposed by coastal erosion

Dr. Daniel Zwick (State Archaeology Department of Schleswig-Holstein, ALSH)

In recent years there has been an exponential increase of wreck discoveries in the North Frisian Wadden Sea of the German federal state of Schleswig-Holstein. This can be linked to coastal erosion, tidal currents and storms, which effects are amplified by climate change. Each of the wrecks has a unique story to tell, like the ‘half-carvel’ Japsand wreckage from the early 17th century, which seems to be a local variation of a construction that is most commonly found in Sweden. Or the two ‘Double Dutch’ shell-first carvel constructions from Hörnum Odde (Sylt) and Süderoogsand – dating to ca. 1690 and 1733 respectively – that are comparable to Dutch Eastindiamen and whaling ships in their constructional style. And, last not least, two additional wooden wrecks on Süderoogsand that were uncovered by a storm in late February 2022. None of the wrecks have been identified yet. A cooperation with historians is currently forged – both locally and internationally – to identify the wrecks and shed light on the fate of their crews. The work hitherto done presented a special challenge, as the wrecksites are located in very remote parts of the Wadden Sea. They can be neither investigated by conventional terrestrial nor underwater archaeological methods, and the time frame for surveying is set by the tidal calendar. The challenging conditions are further aggravated by the lack of funding for maritime archaeological research in Germany. Due to the sovereignty of the German federal states in cultural politics (‘Kulturhoheit der Länder’), there no central German authority responsible for maritime archaeology. The littoral states often lack the resources to build up capacities for a highly specialised subject as maritime archaeology on their own accord, and archaeological excavations carried out by state authorities are typically only developer-funded. Notwithstanding, the maritime cultural heritage is under threat particularly in areas affected by coastal erosion, and there is a concerted effort to raise awareness in the public and academic sphere for this pressing issue.

Top image: The Süderoogsand 2 wreck in March 2022 (Photo: Martin Hain)

The wreck of the Spanish barque ULPIANO which ran aground on 24.12.1870 on Süderoogsand (Photo: Brunckhorst, LKN.SH)